One of the refrains I hear over and over again when people discuss healthier eating is, “But it all tastes so healthy.” This is coming from grown-ass adults, mind you.
Now I’m no health nut — I ate pasta for breakfast today — but I appreciate the importance of a balanced diet. I also appreciate that healthy food, when done right, does not “taste so healthy.”
Buntopia does it right.
Opened just over a year ago at 994 Broadway, steps from the Myrtle-Broadway JMZ stop, Buntopia is a pan-Asian fusion spot with a focus on healthy, clean eating. Vegan and vegetarian options abound, though meat eaters are not left out.
I stopped by to see how the food was a year on and to discuss the business of clean eating with owner Sean Chen.
The common wisdom is that upwards of 90 percent of single-location, full-service restaurants close within their first year. NYC’s famously turbulent restaurant scene seems like proof of this.
Turns out, though, that common wisdom ain’t so wise — in 2014, economists Tian Luo and Philip B Stark analyzed 20 years of Bureau of Labor Statistics data and found that actual one-year closure rates for restaurants are actually more like 17 percent.
This puts Buntopia, open and doing healthy business on its first birthday, right on track as per national averages. Chen admits that it’s been tough, as one would expect opening a restaurant to be, but that business is “pretty good” and growing.
Most impressively, to me at least, is the number of regular customers they’ve garnered already — people who come in once a week or literally “every single day” for their favorite dish.
My lunch at Buntopia was comprised of three dishes, Happy Bull-da, Mango Tango (they like their cutesy names), and Thai coconut curry chicken ramen, a winter special.
Happy Bull-da is a bao, a Chinese steamed bun generally filled, sandwich style, with pork of some sort. The Happy Bull-da is filled with barbeque pork seitan which, no joke, was a dead ringer for the real thing. The seitan, coated in hoisin-lingonberry sauce, was complemented perfectly by a large fresh slice of ohshinko, pickled daikon radish. With two to an order, two orders of these will make a feast.
Next up was the Mango Tango, a vegan sushi roll that featured, you guessed it, mango. A fresh hunk of avocado and a healthy dollop of “spicy vegan puree,” which tastes astonishingly like crab, wrapped up in a blanket of vibrant and nutty black rice. The whole party is shrouded in mango slices and doused in two sauces, crimson berry and habanero mango.
If it sounds sweet to you, it is. But not nearly as sweet as you’d imagine, and sharing an order with a friend or two will keep the sweetness level well within reason. The spice I was expecting from the habanero mango sauce would’ve helped, but it was ultimately lost to me.
Finally, a big steaming bowl of Thai coconut curry chicken ramen, a Thai-style coconut curry broth topped with grilled chicken, chick peas, enoki mushrooms, crab meat, spinach, and half a medium boiled egg. I can’t lie, it lacked the gut-drenching, fatty-porky goodness of a more traditional ramen, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t delicious. Because it was.
The broth was phenomenal — the curry was present, both in flavor and aroma, but not overpowering, and the coconut provided it with needed body and a decent dose of rich fattiness. Each of the toppings were beautifully fresh and, though “healthy,” delectable and filling. The bowl was topped with a generous dusting of sesame seeds and crushed kaffir lime leaves, the latter of which imbued the whole dish with a gorgeous citrusy, floral essence.
I left feeling warm and content and very full, but without the energy-sapping weight of a less-healthy meal of similar size. I was energized and ready for the rest of the day.
Buntopia is turning one and, with special anniversary celebration discounts to be announced on their Instagram, it’s a perfect time to bring the stubborn carnivore in your life by and prove to them that healthy eating doesn’t have to taste like cardboard.
Asian fusion cafe with a focus on health conscious eats with big, bold flavors steps away from the Myrtle-Broadway JMZ.
994 Broadway, Brooklyn
Tue-Sun: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
+1 347 435-3660
Follow Buntopia on Instagram.
Photos by Andrew Tobia